On Monday, the U.S. also separately imposed an additional set of sanctions on Iran, targeting its intelligence services and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as punishment for detaining Americans, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said.
He said the move was meant in part to send a message to Iran and show that the Biden administration will remain tough on the Islamic Republic. The release of the prisoners now “is not orchestrated as part of any rapprochement,” Kirby said.
Biden announced the sanctions in his statement and called on the Iranian government to reveal what happened to Bob Levinson, an American and retired FBI agent who went missing in Iran in 2007.
“The Levinson family deserves answers,” Biden said.
The president spoke to the families of the seven American citizens who are returning home from Iran, the White House said in a statement Monday.
Once the Americans reached house arrest, the U.S. authorized the transfer of $6 billion, frozen as part of economic sanctions against Iran, from a South Korean bank where the money was being held to a “supervised” bank account in Qatar. Iran will be allowed to use the money only for humanitarian needs, U.S. officials said. The transactions will be monitored, and if Tehran uses the money for terrorism or military purposes, the U.S. will re-freeze funds, the officials said.
Of the five Iranian prisoners released from U.S. custody, two will return to Iran, two will remain in the U.S. and one will go to a third country, Kirby said. He did not identify them but said the charges against the two who are staying in the U.S. did not reflect a security threat.
The deal is controversial, especially among Republican critics of the Biden administration, who argue that the arrangement will give the Islamic Republic, as well as other governments, incentive to capture Americans and hold them hostage for ransom.
Some critics have also falsely accused the Biden administration of paying off Iran to secure the freedom of the Americans. In fact, the funds were earned by Iran through oil sales several years ago.
While advocating for the freedom of the Americans, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said he was concerned that facilitating the transfer of the money to Iran, “the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism,” would encourage future hostage-taking.
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